Isi-pîkiskwêwin-Ayapihkêsîsak or Speaking the Language of Spiders is a complex, collaborative Indigenous project in new media that aims to tell stories about, according to the Artist Statement, “the fringes of urban street life” through Indigenous cultural paradigms and the medium of a nascent internet. As the Artist Statement elaborates, this is a project that aims to speak back to the invisibilization of lives (Indigenous life) under “the increasingly neoconservative climate of contemporary Canadian culture”. It is striking to me that this page is from 1996 – both because the technology of the site reflects this; it is rudimentary, simple in its layout, yet extremely complex and layered in its content. Moreover, the statement -almost 20 years old -speaks to a ‘an increasingly neoconservative’ Canadian culture, one that arguably has become more conservative in the last 20 years. The project is therefore political as it is an act, or an attempt, at visibilization and humanization in the face of invisibilization and dehumanization.
Through several motifs of historical periods, the piece presents several poems/stories/texts of street life. Many of the pieces show a (by today’s standards) simple, unglamorous page with texts, that are sometimes accompanied by a narration of the pieces. The meaning of the poems/pieces, and other stories, are not not obviously clear, and to my mind, remain open to a variety of interpretations. Nevertheless, a dominant theme is the tension, as I read it, between recuperating Indigenous epistemologies and the settler world’s ignorance of these. For example in “Mithoskumin – Break Up Season”, “natural law” and the wisdom of the snake is juxtaposed with the ignorance of a “city engineer”. The pieces also deal with some key political issues faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada; “Long Gone Walking Doll”, for example, in a subtle way alludes to the catastrophic and unjust crisis of missing Indigenous women.
The poems are layered and deep in their meaning. A key theme, as I see it, is nature and affect/emotions. The poems combine statements about nature, landscape, non-human animals and geography with certain emotions and experiences about urban street life. The poems demand the senses to feel; they do not have full ‘pictures’ or scenes per se, but they are full of descriptions of sounds, smells, anxieties, dreams, and much more. There is therefore a powerful and evocative element of testimony to each poem. Not necessarily through visible images or the description of visible scenarios through text, but through a textured description of emotions, nature, feelings, the poems visibilize certain facts or experiences or situations of street life that are often actively invisibilized by the wider settler society. The work is also a careful and thoughtful condemnation of Canada’s racism towards Indigenous peoples; a recurring description is that of ‘brown skin’. In “Ice-boy”, one particular character is ‘confined’ to a space where “natural born color defines your place in the food chain”, undoubtedly referring to there is an unjust racial hierarchy in Canada which privileges some and marginalizes others.
“Long Gone Walking Doll”. Isi-pîkiskwêwin-Ayapihkêsîsak (Speaking the Language of Spiders). N.D. 1996. Accessed Oct 25, 2015. http://www.spiderlanguage.net/walkingdoll.html
Maskegon-Iskwew, Ahasiw. “Artist Statement”. Isi-pîkiskwêwin-Ayapihkêsîsak (Speaking the Language of Spiders). 11 December 1996. Web. Accessed Oct 25 2015. http://www.spiderlanguage.net/ahasiw-statement.html
“Mithoskumin – Break Up Season”. Isi-pîkiskwêwin-Ayapihkêsîsak (Speaking the Language of Spiders). N.D. 1996. Web. Accessed Oct 25, 2015. http://www.spiderlanguage.net/breakuptable.html